The top 10 players returning to the Western Kentucky Hilltoppers for the 2020 college football season.
Important to note that this list is based upon last year's data and film from on each specific team as well as judgment based upon the player's position both his skill and the level of talent around him at the said position and influential cohorts. Positional value also plays a large factor in these rankings as does the offensive or defensive scheme.
1. Deangelo Malone, DE
2. Antwon Kincade, S
3. Gaej Walker, RB
4. Juwuan Jones, DE
5. Kyle Bailey, LB
6. Jahcour Pearson, WR
7. Devon Key, S
8. Joshua Simon, TE
9. Jordan Meredith, G
10. Cole Spencer, T
Honorable Mention: Dionte Ruffin, CB; Seth Joest, C; Trae Meadows, CB
If you don't know that the Hilltoppers possess multiple potential NFL draft picks, that's fine, but make no mistake about it, and further educate yourselves now. Malone, Kincade, Jones, Key and Bailey are absolutely on the radar while Malone should absolutely be in the early-round conversation.
He's a monster on the pass-rush, dominating his way to the pass-rush triple-double a season ago: double-digit sacks, hits and hurries. He's a sure tackler in space as well as he is a dominant pass-rusher with a combination of strength and speed. He uses his hands extremely well and will consistently take on, and defeat double-teams.
On the other side of Malone is Jones, who quietly put up big numbers just the same. He didn't get home as frequently as Malone, but that was just because Malone was oftentimes a fraction of a second faster than him. When he did get home with pressure, though, he was sacking the quarterback rather than just pressuring him. He doesn't miss many tackles and also plays against the run very well, from a wide array of alignments on defense. He and Malone each have great defensive line versatility.
Then there's Kincade at safety, as he recorded two picks, two pass breakups and didn't allow a long reception of more than what felt like 20 yards at all last season. Even when he wasn't the primary coverage defender, he routinely made plays on the ball and came down in run defense with great technique and instincts. Key added five pass breakups and yet another sure tackler to the defense as his best attributes were certainly when stuffing the run at or just beyond the line of scrimmage.
Bailey led the team in tackles and in interceptions a season ago as he's a do-it-all type of linebacker who patrols the middle of the field with ease. His sideline-to-sideline ability is up there with the best in the conference and in the Group of 5.
On offense, they're led by Walker, who ran for 1,209 yards last season and eight scores. Despite being the team's workhorse, he still averaged 5.0 yards a carry and broke off multiple big runs with several defenders left in his wake a season ago. He's got great vision and burst, and can make something out of nothing look routine.
Pearson saw over 100 targeted passes a season ago and that number should only go up after losing Lucky Jackson to the NFL on offense. He ripped off 809 yards on 76 catches and led the team with seven touchdowns last year.